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AGO 1959 No. 21 - March 09, 1959
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

SCHOOLS - BUSES - LOADING AND UNLOADING OF SCHOOL CHILDREN.

(1) A school bus cannot be loaded or unloaded without the use of the prescribed stop sign even though the bus can be driven off the road or right of way.

(2) School buses must use the prescribed stop sign in unloading and loading either at the school or other places in the city.

(3) A school bus cannot be stopped for the purpose of loading or unloading children in the main traveled right lane with the stop sign extended even where it is possible to drive the bus off the road.

                                                                  - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                   March 9, 1959

Honorable Lloyd J. Andrews
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Old Capitol Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                   Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 21

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on the following three questions relative to the operation of school buses:

            (1) In situations where the school bus can be driven off the road, or off the right of way, can the bus be loaded or unloaded without the use of the prescribed stop sign?

            (2) Is the stop sign required to be used if the buses are unloading or loading in a city, either at the school or other places in the city?

            (3) Can a school bus be stopped for the purpose of loading or unloading children in the main traveled right lane, with stop sign extended, even if it is possible to drive the bus off the road at that point?

            We answer questions (1) and (3) in the negative and question (2) in the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]                                                                             

            Questions (1) and (2):                                                        

            Section 1, chapter 151, Laws of 1945 (cf. RCW 46.48.130; RCW 46.48.140), which amended section 45, chapter 189, Laws of 1937, provides as follows:

            "All school buses shall be equipped with a 'stop' signal upon a background not less than fourteen by eighteen inches (14 x 18) displaying the word 'stop' in letters of distinctly contrasting colors not less than eight (8) inches high.  All school buses which are put into service after the effective date of this act shall also be equipped with red lamps of a type approved by the state commission on equipment, which shall display a flashing signal.  Such signand lamps shall be displayed as directed by the Chief of the Washington State Patrol and shall display both to the front and rear of such school bus, manually controlled by the operator of the school bus, [extending to the left of the body] and shall be displayed only when such school bus is receiving or discharging school passengers and shall be released only when such school passengers are received or discharged and have not further need of protection in crossing the public highway or otherwise.

            "It shall be unlawful for any person operating a motor vehicle in either direction upon a two-lane public highway to fail to bring such vehicle to a complete stop at least twenty (20) feet away and on the approach to any school bus on the roadway or off the roadway displaying such stop signal and remain standing until the same is released.

            "It shall be unlawful for any person operating a motor vehicle in the same direction as a school bus upon a multiple lane public highway to fail to bring such vehicle to a complete stop at least twenty (20) feet away and on the approach to any school bus on the roadway or off the roadway displaying such stop signal and remain standing until the same is released:  Provided, Compliance with the above stopping provisions of this section shall not relieve any motor vehicle operator of the further duty to exercise reasonable care in approaching or passing any such school bus."  (Emphasis supplied.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            (The underlined portion was added to section 45, chapter 189, Laws of 1937 and the bracketed part omitted therefrom, by the enactment of the above amendment.)

            Our court has said that in arriving at the intent of the legislature, the first resort of the courts is to the context and subject matter of the legislation, because the intention of the lawmakers is to be deduced, if possible, from the words used.  Hatzenbuhler v. Harrison, 49 Wn. (2d) 691, 306 P. (2d) 745; Guinness v. State, 40 Wn. (2d) 677, 246 P. (2d) 433.  Further, statutes are to be construed according to their evident intent and purpose, and the legislative intent must be gleaned from a consideration of the whole act, by giving effect to the entire statute and to every part thereofState v. Rinkes, 49 Wn. (2d) 664, 306 P. (2d) 205; see also, DeGrief v. City of Seattle, 50 Wn. (2d) 1, 297 P. (2d) 940.

            InSpokane County ex rel. Sullivan v. Glover, 2 Wn. (2d) 162, 97 P. (2d) 628, the court said:

            "There is no universal rule or absolute test by which it can be positively determined whether a provision in a statute is mandatory or directory.  In the determination of that question, as of every other question of statutory construction, the prime object is to ascertain the legislative intent as disclosed by all the terms and provisions of the act in relation to the subject of legislation, and by a consideration of the nature of the act, the general object to be accomplished, and the consequences that would result from construing the particular statute in one way or another."  (p. 169)

            Applying these rules, we believe the intent and purpose of the legislature in passing the above act is very clear from a reading thereof and that is to protect school children from injury while they are loading and unloading from school buses.  The legislature no doubt recognized that children of tender years who ride school buses may at different times act upon childish impulses.  To insure their safety to the greatest extent possible, the mandatory requirement was imposed upon the driver of a school bus to display the "stop sign" in every case when receiving or discharging his passengers.  No exception is provided therein relieving the driver from this statutory duty when it is possible for him to stop the bus completely off the traveled portion of the public highway or when the bus is stopped within the limits of a city.

            Furthermore, the legislature, by language which is plain, clear and unambiguous, has made it unlawful for any motorist to pass a school bus,  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] on or off the "public highway" displaying the sign, without stopping.  In section 1, chapter 189, Laws of 1937 (cf. RCW 46.04.430) the term "public highway" is defined as:

            "Every way, lane, road, street, boulevard, and every way or place in the State of Washington open as a matter of right to public vehicular travelboth inside and outside the limits of incorporated cities and town."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            In the absence ofspecific language authorizing a deviation from the requirement of the statute, we feel that, considering the purpose of the act, no attempt should be made to imply an exception thereto.  This subject is of grave public concern and if there is to be any relaxation of the law in this area it should be by clear legislative pronouncement.

            We, therefore, conclude that the driver of a school bus must display the prescribed stop sign whenever school children are being received or discharged, regardless of where this loading or unloading takes place.

            This conclusion is consistent with, and therefore fortified by, the administrative construction which has been placed upon the act and the prior law which it amended, section 45, chapter 189, Laws of 1937, supra, by the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Chief of the Washington State Patrol.  This is evidenced by the rules and regulations promulgated by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction for the operation of school buses, which insofar as pertinent, reads as follows:

            "The display of the stop sign also applies when buses are receiving or discharging school passengers on a public highway or city street at school locations.  In order to avoid congestion of traffic at school locations, within city limits, bus stops, wherever possible, shall be limited to a side street adjacent to the school and the display of the stop sign for loading and unloading of school passengers shall be held to the very minimum."

            We believe this is a correct interpretation of the law together with a reasonable solution for minimizing the obstruction of traffic which ordinarily follows the display of the stop sign.  Such regulations are authorized by RCW 46.48.150.

            Our court has said that while the administrative construction placed on a statute by the officer or department charged with its administration is not conclusive, it is entitled to considerable weight in determining the legislative intention.  SeeBradley v. Dept. of Labor and Industries, 152 Wash. Dec. 727 [[52 Wn. 2d 780]].

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            Question (3):

            Your third question is whether a school bus can be stopped for the purpose of loading or unloading children in the main traveled right lane, with the stop sign extended,even if it is possible to drive the bus off the road at that point?

            As hereinbefore noted, section 1, chapter 151, Laws of 1945 (RCW 46.48.130, RCW 46.48.140) amended section 45, chapter 189, Laws of 1937.  Included in the latter chapter which was the original "Washington Motor Vehicle Act," we find the following provision:

            "Sec. 110 [cf. RCW 46.48.290] It shall be unlawful for any person to stop, park, or leave standing any vehicle, whether attended or unattended, upon the paved, improved, or main traveled portion of any public highway outside incorporated cities and townswhen it is possible to stop, park, or so leave such vehicleoff such paved, improved, or main traveled portion of such public highway.  In the event that it is not possible to leave such vehicle standing off the paved, improved, or main traveled portion of such public highway at least one half of the width of the roadway shall be left clear and unobstructed for the free passage of other vehicles and a clear view of such stopped vehicle shall be available for a distance of three hundred (300) feet in each direction of such public highway. . . . This section shall not apply to the operator of a vehicle which is disabled upon the paved or improved or main traveled portion of any public highway in such a manner and to such an extent that it is impossible to avoid stopping and temporarily leaving such vehicle in such position."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            InDeGrief v. Seattle, supra, our court said:

            "'It is our duty to construe two statutes, dealing with the same subject so that theintegrity of both will be maintained.  Buell v. McGee, 9 Wn. (2d) 84, 90, 113 P. (2d) 522 (1941).  The same rule applies to the construction of parts of one act.  Each part must be construed in connection with every other part or section.  (Citation omitted.)"  (p. 11) (Emphasis supplied.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            Section 110 (cf. RCW 46.48.290) quoted above expressly makes it unlawful for any person to stop "any vehicle" on the traveled portion of a public highway when it is possible to stop said vehicle off the traveled portion thereof.  A school bus is included within the definition of "vehicle" as that term is used in the act (section 1, chapter 189, Laws of 1937; RCW 46.04.670) and it is not included in any exception which would take it out of the operation of section 110.

            Unquestionably a school bus may lawfully stop on the traveled portion of a highway where it is necessary; however, it is our opinion, construing the two sections of the act referred to above so as to harmonize and give effect to the provisions of each, that a school bus must stop off the traveled portion of the highway where it is possible to do so.

            We recognize that the argument may be advanced that section 110 was designed to prohibit any obstruction on the traveled portion of the highway which would tend to interfere with the uninterrupted flow of traffic, and that section 45, relating to school buses, was specifically intended to stop the flow of traffic in the manner therein provided; therefore, the statutes should be construed so as to exclude school buses from the operation of the former.  We reject this construction since both sections are included in the same act; both were passed at the same session of the legislature, and it is not necessary in order to give effect to both, to create an exception in favor of school buses in respect to section 110.

            Perhaps one of the clearest expressions of why our construction of this act should be adopted is found in the present rules and regulations under which school buses are now operating:

            "Bus drivers are to be instructed and shall be required to release the stop sign andallow traffic to clear before again proceeding after the school passengers have been received or discharged and there is no further need of protection in crossing the highway or otherwise.?"  (Emphasis supplied.)

            We summarize our conclusions as follows:

            1. The "stop sign" of a school bus must be displayed whenever school children are being received or discharged.

            2. A school bus must be stopped completely off the main traveled portion of the public highway whenever possible.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            We trust this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

ROBERT J. DORAN
Assistant Attorney General

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